Friday, March 31, 2006

Respect Between Enemies

Jill Carroll, American hostage in Iraq, was released yesterday. Like the rest of the nation, I am encouraged by this turn of events. I hope that Ms. Carroll sees her family soon, and that her experiences will strengthen her resolve to report fairly the plight of the Iraqi people. This has been a landmark day for both Americans and Iraqis alike.

Unfortunately, I can't help but find some of the recent media coverage surrounding Ms. Carroll disturbing. The woman was held captive for three months. Ostensibly, her survival and later release can be linked to several factors:

1) Her experience as an Arabic linguist,

2) Her work in trying to accurately report about conditions in Iraq, and

3) Her willingness to respect local customs by donning a traditional Arab headdress (hijab) and robe (abaya) when reporting.

In a rational world, I would think Ms. Carroll's survival would carry an important lesson regarding foreign relations. Instead, we have men like John Podhoretz and Jonah Goldberg attacking Ms. Carroll's mental stability and patriotism, making personal attacks and countless tasteless references to Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless of whether or not such inferences carry weight, it makes me sick to see partisan pundits--on either end of the spectrum--attacking Ms. Carroll's unwillingness to use her experiences to support an ideology. Just because a captive brings back information about an enemy that doesn't fit with the current stereotype, that does not make her "mentally unstable" or a "Johnny Taliban." Such implications are little more than partisan sniping, intended to bolster a culturally relative agenda. They should disgust any human being with even a sliver of reason or compassion.

But on another note, the reactions to today's events also perturb me on a different level. They offend my sensibilities not just as a human being, but as an American soldier.

As I've mentioned before, I've been stationed for almost a year in Germany. I love it all; the food, the culture, and the people. When I venture off-post with my wife on the weekends, I make it a point to speak and learn as much German as possible. I learn something new every time I journey to the Marktplatz. I do this out of respect for the people of whose nation I am a guest, NOT because I'm somehow sympathetic to a German nation opposed to my government's occupation of Iraq. Disagreeing with party-line policies does not automatically make one an "enemy sympathizer." I pity anyone who might be foolish enough to believe otherwise.

One of the great dangers of military service, in any society, is the tendency that develops to dehumanize the enemy. The idea is that it's easier to oppress or obliterate a culture if one implies that the enemy is somehow "less than human." The medieval Christians did it. The Communists did it. The Nazis did it. And today, in trying to rally support for our war, we do it as well. And it happens in both cultures.

For every Al-Jazeera, there is a FOX News. For every bin Laden or Zarqawi, there is a Cheney or a Rumsfeld. And for every "infidel" or "occupier," there is yet another "raghead" or "haji."
Soldiers suffer from this problem on an extreme level. To a certain degree, it's a coping mechanism for dealing with the horrors of war. I understand that, despite never having been deployed myself. I expect that I may be guilty of the same behavior when I finally go "downrange." But nothing justifies bigotry. And that's what this is.

Whatever happened to the old idea of honor; of respect between enemies? The samurai of Japan understood it; the gladiators of ancient Rome understood it. Even the Latino youth gangs of California understand it. But what about us? For all the pride we take as Americans in our values (and I certainly do), honor and tolerance often get conveniently glossed over. The reasons people oppose us in our actions are as diverse as the backgrounds we share. If we ever hope to regain our standing in the international community, it is imperative that we remember how to view and treat our fellow human beings with respect, even when we are forced to stand against them in combat.

We face an adversary guilty of appalling atrocities: attacks on civilians, mass murder, even ethnic cleansing. But if Jill Carroll's life was spared by this same group, it was not because of some terrorist plot. It happened because in the face of war, across cultures, a brief glimmer of respect and compassion revealed itself. Whatever other brutalities this enemy may have committed, they have honored Ms. Carroll--and ALL Americans--by deciding that her life was simply too valuable to exploit or destroy. And shame on the ideologues who use this woman's trauma to further their own agendas.

For this honor, on this day, whatever else might happen, I truly respect my enemy. As should we all.

3 Comments:

Blogger belledame222 said...

nice post.

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i just started reading your blog. i think i may sit a little on the other side of the fence than you, but look forward to your first-hand experiences with much anticipation. i hope respecting your enemy means being wary of their intelligence and remembering their brutality. yes, they let this one prisoner go. i will read on.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Barb said...

It is a shame that we have so many more examples of disregard for human life. In this case, the captors allowed her to live, and that is great. But too many in similar situations were killed out of hand, and in horrible ways. So I'm afraid that this one example does not wipe the others out.

7:08 AM  

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